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How does cannabis affect the Pineal Gland?

Originally posted on 3rd July 2017, Updated on 25th January 2019

The endocrine system is a collection of glands, which secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream to be carried to the relevant target organs.  One of these glands is called the pineal gland, this is located in the epithalamus, the place where the two hemispheres of the brain come together.

The pineal gland produces and regulates the body’s supply of melatonin, which is a hormone derived from serotonin.  While melatonin is best recognized as the hormone which regulates sleep and therefore the body’s circadian rhythm, it is now at least starting to be recognized as having other beneficial uses, such as offering protection against oxidative stress, which helps in the treatment of gallstones.

Why do psychoactive substances often affect the pineal gland?

It’s long been known that the pineal gland is 970afcd6924fd5757454d62b4cdfd7caparticularly sensitive to psychoactive substances such as cannabis as shown in this study.  This is probably part of the reason why it has developed the reputation of having spiritual properties and why it has long been linked with the idea of foresight.  While the issue of clairvoyance is outside the scope of science, what is known is that in humans there is a direct link between the pineal gland and the retina in the eye, presumably so that the pineal gland has information about light levels to help it to regulate both circadian and seasonal rhythms.  Of course, in today’s world, where we may have to be out and about working on dark winter days and trying to get to sleep in spite of bright lights all around us, it can be very easy for the pineal glad to get confused and that’s before you add in complexities such as travel, particularly air travel.  Because of this, there are times when the pineal gland could use a bit of help, which is where medical marijuana can be so useful.  The pineal gland is known to be especially sensitive to psychoactive substances such as cannabis.  It is thought that the main reason for this is that the pineal gland is one of the few parts of the brain to get its blood supply directly from the posterior cerebral artery.  Most of the brain is behind the blood brain barrier, the function of which is to protect the brain from anything which could disrupt its regular function, such as psychoactive substances.

brain-effects-cannabisIn addition to being particularly sensitive to psychoactive substances such as cannabis, the pineal gland is also especially well-suited to the role of mood influencer for the body and mind as a whole because it contains adrenergic receptors, which bind with a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, which plays a key role in regulating sleep patterns.  This binding process sets off a variety of complex interactions involving diverse hormones and enzymes.  Although all of these interactions technically relate to preparing the body for sleep or wakefulness, the reality is that they influence our overall emotional state, in other words, our mood.  Scientists are now starting to look more closely at the pineal gland and its relationship with our general mental health, but at this time there is still much to be learned.

How does cannabis effect the pineal gland?

As science is still very much at the start of its research into the pineal gland, the current state of research can actually cause some degree of confusion.  As is often the case, some of the studies have been on rats, which also have a pineal gland with a functional endocannabinoid system.  This study has indicated that the activity of the cannabinoid receptors (both type 1 and type 2) was influenced by light, which makes sense given the link between the pineal gland and the eye (which is also true of rats).  This study also suggested that THC, when it is present in cannabis, disrupts the production of melatonin, hence reducing feelings of sleepiness or, alternatively, making users feel more alert.  This tallies with the “THC high” and suggests that only strains with little to no THC content should be considered appropdb372b2c-c9da-4359-b74e-c5b1ef762376riate choices for treating insomnia.  In the real world, however, the situation is rather more complex.  Even though many “insomnia strains” are CBD heavy, it’s far from uncommon for high-THC strains to be used before a person wants to go to sleep, for example to clear headaches or other pain or to lift a person’s mood enough for them to be able to settle restfully without being plagued by negative emotions.  In fact, in a small-scale study of 9 male, human volunteers, carried out in 1986, 8 of the volunteers saw significantly increased levels of melatonin after THC consumption, but one saw a decrease.  This result may be a reminder that rats and humans are different and hence responses seen in one species may be different to responses seen in the other.  An alternative explanation is that there may have been something in the way the studies were undertaken, which influenced the results.  In humans, an individual’s reaction to cannabis depends on various factors, such as how they consume it (e.g. smoking/vaping, edibles or topicals), their metabolism, the dosage and their existing experience of it.  Hence, what applies to one human may or may not apply to another.  Both explanations could apply at the same time.

While medical marijuana is often used simply to treat insomnia, it’s also worth remembering that sleep combines the functions of regeneration (both physical and mental) and detoxification (mostly mental).  This latter function is mostly undertaken through dreams, which help to cleanse and order our minds.  Using psychoactive substances such as cannabis before we go to sleep may, therefore, help to promote lucid dreams or at least more enjoyable ones.

MSNL Team MSNL Team / 25th January 2019

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